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A beginner’s guide to identifying conchs, chitons, and more.

Don't let the fee put you off because you'll be rewarded with one of the best environments for finding intact conch shells. Be aware that it won't be a secluded search as Honeymoon Island State Park is Florida's most visited state park. Take it as your opportunity for an out-of-season winter search, which serious beachcombers insist is the best time of year for finding shells. If you'd prefer to head to the east side of the state and go beachcombing along the Atlantic, make Jupiter Island your destination.

The Island runs between Martin and Palm Beach counties, but you want to head to Jupiter Island beach on the southern end. Under a canopy of palm trees, spend you days hoping to get "shellucky" with finds such as intact spectral bittersweets and angel wings. Over types of shells have been recorded here, meaning you'll have to fit turtle spotting tours and kayaking excursions around your beachcombing. This slightly slanted classic ribbed shell belongs to the clam family and can be found along shores in the northeastern US, stretching from North Carolina to Texas.

In Florida, your best bet is to head to beaches on the side facing the Gulf of Mexico. To identify which type of shell you found, flip it over and look inside, where the shapes are more noticeably different. If you're heading to Sanibel beach, you're most likely to find the transverse ark. These pointy shells are among the most common types to find in shallow waters and come in a variety of different patterns and colors, depending on the specific species you've found.

Most have simple banding and vary between solid or spotted with just two colors. They're most likely to wash up in shallow waters. You can find everything from teeny-tiny ones that measure just 3mm to larger ones the measure approximately mm. Think of these flared, ribbed shells as the smaller cousin of the grand fighting conch.

Although they're just the size of a fingernail, you'll frequently find hermit crabs living inside them. They range in color from white to orange-y red and can be slightly specked as well. There are two types of cantharus, ribbed and tinted—the latter is smooth, the former with small bumps and ridges. Both are relatively rare in Florida outside of Sanibel Island and its surrounding beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. There are a variety of different cone shells which range in size from the length of a fingernail to the length of a finger.

Most are smooth, but maybe have light ridges around their circumference. In addition to their long, conical shape, you can identify them according to their pale tan markings. While specimens with live snails are poisonous, they're most likely to bite scuba divers when handling them deep underwater. The cockle might as well be called the archetypical seashell.

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With its arched shape and ribbing, it is a simple, beautiful shell that any beachcomber would be happy to add to their collection. You're most likely to find them on sandy, slightly sheltered beaches. In Southwest Florida, there are a large diversity of different cockles you're likely to encounter from the perfectly white albino cockle to the brown speckled Atlantic giant cockle.

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This medium-sized species of shell is the glory find with which to impress your friends. Although people have reported finding them along the Atlantic coast as far up as North Carolina, your best bet is in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Likely to be slightly buried under sand, finding a fighting conch requires a good hard look. When intact, they measure up to 4. Worm shells are so called for their twisty, turny shapes. Most are long tubes with a pointy top.

They say no two are the same, so all the more excuse to collect as many as you can. In shell hunting lingo the wrack is the area just above the high tide line, where you're likely to score the best finds. Depending on the type of beach you're hunting on, the wrack can be everything from some seashells and a few lines of seaweed to a foot of sponges, fans, boat parts and jellyfish. While the summer might be the most pleasant time for shell hunting, serious beachcombers insist that the best finds happen just after winter storms.

If you aren't into the idea of chilly search, then consider planning your excursion around the moon cycle—the most dramatic fluctuation between high and low tides happens around the full-moon and offers the best chance for finding pristine shells. Just because you spend your days at the beach doesn't mean that's the best time for searching.

Culturally, people have collected shells for millennia for a wide variety of uses; European explorers travelling to West Africa were surprised to find the cowrie shells see photo below being exchanged as money instead of the silver or gold to which they were accustomed. Additionally, native people all over the world have used seashells for basins, tubs, buckets, lamps, and cutting tools.

But to the average beachgoer today, shells represent a major point of interest for trips to the coast. People spend hours combing the beach for shells of interest to them. Some people are novices and some are experts, but the fascination is the same; seashells are fascinating and beautiful reminders of the complexity of life. A seashell is a little hard to define. Most seashells are hard protective outer coverings of marine animals. Most seashells come from mollusks, but some do not.

Most seashells on the beach are not attached to living organisms, but some are. Most seashells come from mollusks, a large group of marine animals including clams, mussels, and oysters, which exude shells as a protective covering. Shells are excreted from the outer surface of the animal called the mantle and are made up of mostly calcium carbonate.

As the animal ages, the shell gets larger and more calcium carbonate is exuded from the mantle. Color patterns are specific to different species making is relatively easy to tell different species apart. While some shells are similar, most differences are recognizable to the naked eye. After the animal dies, the durable shell remains. Ocean currents carry shells underwater where they often come to rest on the beach.

Because beaches change a little bit each time the tide changes, patches of shells may move around daily or appear during certain parts of the day based on tides. Mollusks are responsible for most of the shells you see on a trip to the beach, but pinpointing exactly which species is sometimes difficult due to the sheer size of the mollusk phylum.

The variety and number of mollusk species is huge; over , estimated species makes it one of the largest phyla of animals behind only insects Arthropods and worms Nematodes. There are six major classes of Mollusks that have shells:. Gastropods are the largest division of the mollusks, based on numbers of species.

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The group varies greatly with most members living in salt or freshwater, but a few living on land and some without shells. Gastropod literally means stomach foot and they may be herbivorous or carnivorous. A huge variety of sea snails live in the oceans with spiral-like shells. Many gastropods are scavengers or predators and use a siphon to move water into their shell where they determine if food or prey is close by.

Other gastropods use a sharp mouth part called a radula to eat seaweeds and other foods. Clean water and clean beaches all are essential to maintaining healthy gastropod populations as well as species diversity. Bivalves are what many people think of when they think of a seashell.

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Clams, oysters, mussels, cockles, and scallops make up this class of mollusks that is important economically in the fishing industry all over the world. All bivalves live in water, have two shell halves that protect the soft body of the animal, and most are filter feeders. Filter feeding moves water into the shell and across membranes and organs that trap the food.

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As a result, bivalves are sensitive to changes in water quality and may not be safe to eat if water quality is poor such as is the case in the Chesapeake Bay in the United States and many other coastal areas around the world. When eating shellfish, do the required research to see if your meal is safe. The polyplacophores, more commonly known as chitons, live in the water and are covered by 8 protective plates. These simple creatures rove the intertidal and deep water environments crawling into crevices in search of food and rolling into a ball when threatened.

There are around species and they live in waters around the world.